From out of a sea of faces, a man rises in the audience, waves his hand and asks, "When you've been divorced and one of you remarries, whose children are whose?"
To him, to the audience and to the speaker, his question was confusing. To his children doubtless too. So much depends on the individual circumstances with their individual variations that generalizing about the situation becomes very difficult.
Here, for instance, is a father who has had his children with him all along. The separation occurred when the boy was four and the girl two. At that time the mother had been ill and unable to care for the children. A year later the father remarried. The new mother was warm and wholesome in her relationship with the little ones. Five years passed. Then the mother, finally recovered, remarried and wondered whether she should take her children back.
Fortunately the situation was discussed amicably and with the best interests of the children in mind. They had built security in the home with their father and stepmother. So, even though it was a blow to their actual mother, she decided with wisdom and generosity not to break into the stable strand of their lives except as a good friend with whom they would visit from time to time. She let the stepmother remain "Mother" essentially in their minds.
Here, similarly, is a mother who in more typical fashion has kept her child with her. She has remarried and so has the father. Again the stability of one home is decided on. The new father adopts the child, much to the child's joy and relief. "Now I can put my initials on my lunch box and they'll be the same as my mom has on her watch."
In another home, however, the name situation has not been so happily solved. Shirley's father insists he will not "give up" his daughter. So Shirley, fifteen, accosts him in straightforward indignation.
"Let's face it," she exclaims. "Maybe, as you say, I am disloyal to you, but I can only tell you how I feel. Mel's been my father now for almost ten years. You have your way of life. He has his and I've got used to his more than to yours. I want to stay friends with you, but I'm telling you right now if you keep on objecting to my using Mel's name, I won't be your friend. I'll be your daughter in name only. And I certainly can't see the use of that."
On the other hand, Blythe, sixteen, counts on being identified with his father. "As long as I can't stay with him, I can at least have his name stay with me."
Whatever the motives, if it is practical to do so, the child's choice of name should be taken into account. If a change is not practical in terms of the adults' wishes or in terms of other material considerations, at least listening to and accepting the youngsters' feelings can sometimes ease the pressure for him.
When there are stepsisters or -brothers, the name situation as well as other considerations may become more acute.
"Do you love me as well as you love your own flesh-andblood boy?" asks Donny, thirteen, referring to the sixteen-yearold whom his stepmother had brought from a former marriage.
Later, Donny's attractive, still-young stepmother said that her first inclination was to say to Donny, "Don't talk like that." But she stopped herself, luckily, before she started and turning to him thoughtfully answered, "Yes, I can see how you'd feel, Donny. Tell me more about it."
"He was mad, do you know?" she recounted later. "Mad as a hornet that his father hadn't found me before he was born. I told him I was mad too. I'd have gained a lot if I'd been able to have both Donny and his father sooner. On the other hand, being older and more mature myself when I'd found them, I was able to love them both even more."
It was then Donny's turn to look thoughtful. "I see," he said pensively. "There can be advantages in being the child a woman gets after she's old."
Jealousies between stepbrothers and stepsisters are natural. So are jealousies among full brothers and sisters. Bringing the gripes and complaints out into the open remains the best policy to pursue.
If the "other" parent remarries and the one with whom the child stays does not remarry, again complications may arise. These usually have to do with one's own jealousy.
"It's hard," confesses one woman, "not to be mad at Vera when she comes home raving over Nate's new wife. I feel she's taking my place and I'm out."
Actually this was far from the truth. Vera admired and mimicked her father's new wife just as many girls admire and imitate a beloved teacher. Outside heroes and heroines, as we know, are important assets in adolescence. They help a child move toward emancipation and independence.
Confidently taking one's place as an "outside" hero or heroine can often be of more real value than keeping oneself in the role of a petulant parent forever trying to gain the inside track.